Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Seminary Life

Welcome to Conversations with Bob. More embarrassing details about our life and faith!

We moved to Princeton, New Jersey in the fall of 1989. I enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary. The previous year my brother was involved in a serious motor cycle accident. You need to know that my brother has always been and still is my hero. It was difficult for me to see him in the hospital. The doctors said he wouldn't make it. He had a serious head injury. I saw him probably the day after the accident and he was non-responsive. I took his hand, let him know I was there, and I still swear today that he squeezed my fingers. I told the nurse that he was going to be OK. She asked me how I knew and I said that I just knew.

It took him a year of recovery. He couldn't remember one day to the next for months. But he is one tough son of a gun. My mother and others prayed for him daily, and I have to affirm that prayer (the energy of love) does good. He of course received excellent medical care as well. He recovered from a traumatic situation and continues teaching high school in Eastern Montana. All of that was happening as I was preparing for seminary.

Lovely Spouse (LS) and I looked at other seminaries, Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa and McCormick in Chicago. But Princeton was my choice. It had the best financial aid and it was, I thought, the most challenging intellectually of all the PCUSA seminaries. I am sure many of my colleagues will challenge me on that.

We lived in married student housing with Girl and Boy who were four and two at the time. The married students had a great community. I even delivered the Trenton Times as one of my jobs to all who subscribed on campus. I also pumped their gas at the local Mobil station on the third shift. And on weekends, played old favorites on WBUD "Your B-U-D Buddy."

Not a whole lot of time for socialization. It was work and school. LS did daycare from the apartment and then worked on her degree at Trenton State. Girl and Boy had fun. Then we got another, whom shall be called Sister. This was LS's youngest sister who came to live with us after the parents' divorce, from 7th grade until she graduated college . During one semester we had LS's mother and both sisters in our seminary apartment. We had to turn the dining room into another bedroom. Eventually, the housing folks were very gracious (and bent some rules I think) by allowing LS's mom and sisters to rent a unit.

I began to care about lgbt issues at seminary. The first day at orientation, various groups introduced themselves and enticed us join. One of the many groups was a club for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. I didn't even know what the words meant. A student stood up before us and said what his group was about. I immediately noticed a chill in the room. The guy next to me said under his breath but loud enough for me to hear: "There shouldn't be a group like that on campus." I had a very different reaction. I saw an incredibly courageous person who simply had a group for his kind. I thought he deserved support and dignity.

I loved seminary. It opened my mind to things I had never thought possible in church. I learned about historical criticism, theology from various points of view, and other religions. My favorite professors (some have left, others retired, some have died) included Patrick Miller, Katherine Doob-Sakenfeld, Dennis Olson,"Jimmy Jack" Roberts, Kathleen McVey, James Moorhead, Jane Dempsey Douglass, Karlfried Froehlich, J. Randall Nichols, Christine Neuger, Richard Osmer, Charles Ryerson, Stephen Kraftchik, J. Christiaan Beker, James Charlesworth, James Kay, Nancy Duff, Daniel Migliore, Richard Fenn, and my two favorites, William Brower and Mark Taylor. From Taylor I took Intro to Theology, Contemporary Hermeneutics, and Feminist Theologies. I realized that theology had to do with life here on Earth. William Brower was the speech professor. I took every course he offered. He was an expert on Robert Frost and he was awesome in that he showed us the poetry of life.

I ate it up. In some semesters I took 21 credits just to get enough. Not to brag, but I graduated near the top of my class. I could have stayed there forever.

At graduation, I wore two ribbons. A green one to support women's ordination and a lavendar one to support glbt people in the ministry and in life. I had to explain the lavendar ribbon to my parents when they came for graduation. It was in a sense my "coming out" as a straight ally. At that point, it was for the most part theoretical, based on simple fairness. Since then, it has become personal as I have ministered to, with, and have received far more than I have given, by sexual and gender minorities in the church. It has been the most humbling and gracious part of my ministry.

I graduated in 1992. We were looking to go out west, but nothing was open. I interviewed with a church in Lowville, New York, way up in the snow belt (200 inches of snow per year) and we decided to be New Yorkers. The First Presbyterian Church of Lowville, New York will always be my first love. More on that next time....


  1. John -

    Thanks for sharing your life with us, particularly your seemingly immediate acceptance of GLBT folks. As "family" of a number who represent each of the letters in that group, I am only too thrilled to hear of anyone who understands the humanity behind those letters.

    I have found that no one understands the value of love - or simple acceptance - more than those to whom it is so often withheld. This reason in particular is argument enough why I think GLBT people should be ENCOURAGED to marry, adopt and/or bear children.

    Besides, one can't help but feel that those who accept people who are REALLY outcast will accept those of us who are simply wondering.

  2. Hi Snad,

    Thanks for that!

    In telling a life story on a blog, things do come across immediately, especially from the perspective of distance.

    My experience at orientation was like that, but then the hard work began for me internally.

    How to deal with cultural attitudes, the Bible, my privilege, and my internal homophobia. It has been and continues to be a process of how you put it so well, finding the humanity behind the letters.

  3. Interesting blog! I like the first person material--taking things out of the realm of abstraction and putting them into biography is very helpful.

    I am at PTS, and I think it is probably still as you remember it. I think PTS does a good job of blending academic/pastoral, evanglical/liberal, US/international, etc. I'm pretty sure I know your successor at Lowville. It sounds like a cool church--I'm looking forward to hearing more.

  4. Hey Jon!

    Welcome and thanks for stopping by! I will try to be discreet as possible about my successor and the church, but she is awesome and so is the church!


  5. John

    A couple things:

    1. I've read various things by James Charlesworth, most recently in Biblical Archeological Review about his work with the Dead Sea Scrolls. I have a great deal of respect for him.

    2. The other is about the PUP task force. It won't surprise you that I disagreed with one of their conclusions, number 5. The curious thing was that I have several friends who served on the task force, both Evangelical and middle of the road. I don't let things like disagreements end friendships. A couple of my Evangelical friends on the task force took a lot of flack. I was at the 2006 GA. Other Evangelicals asked me how I could talk with them. I said they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. We disagreed but I love them. Some Evangelicals looked upon me with suspicion after that. Go figure.

  6. Hey Bob,

    I guess they are really lovin' ya for talking with me. Maybe they'll hope you will trip me up!

    I disagreed with the TTF point 6. About two percent of the readership will have any idea what we are talking about! You got it though, Bob. Friendship is far more important that agreement/disagreement.

    I got a kick out of Prof. Charlesworth. He really has done great work with the Dead Sea Scrolls. I remember a skit at seminary when the "actor" playing 'Charlesworth as Indiana Jones' was swinging from a rope from one end of the cafeteria to another in his quest for ancient artifacts!

    Prof. Charlesworth, in those days, came across as thinking pretty highly of himself! But I liked him. He told us again and again, "When you refer to a saying of Jesus in the gospels, such as the Gospel of Matthew, don't say 'Jesus said,' but 'Matthew's Jesus said.'"